Freedom of religion in Syria

The constitution of the Syrian Arab Republic guarantees freedom of religion. Syria has had two constitutions: one passed in 1973, and one in 2012 through the 2012 Syrian constitutional referendum. Opposition groups rejected the referendum; claiming that the vote was rigged.[1]

Syria has come under international condemnation over their alleged "anti-Semitic" state media, and for alleged "sectarianism towards Sunni Muslims".[2] This is a claim that Damascus denies.

History of the constitutional clauses (1973)

On March 8, 1963, the Syrian Armed Forces overthrew the government of the French Mandate for Syria in a military coup d'état. After a great deal of struggle between various groups for power, the Ba'athist party assumed power over Syria. Being opposed to religion in general, the Ba'athist theoretician Michel Aflaq associated religion with the old corrupt social order, oppression, and exploitation of the weak; seeming to have been influenced by a mixture of radical Hobbesian and Marxist views on religion.[3] The constitution, however, still made it clear that in quote "Islamic jurisprudence shall be the main source for legislation".[4] Despite this proviso, there were a number of Sunni Muslims who felt that the secularization of the country had gone too far. They pressed for Islam as a state religion, demanding that all laws contrary to Islam should be abrogated. Their beliefs encompassed the understanding that the essential elements of the unity of Syria is the shari'a, which includes laws adequate to organize all aspects of life; at the level of the individual, the family, the nation and the state.[4]
From the founding of modern- day Syria, there were underlying tensions that stemmed from sectarianism between the majority Sunni Muslim bloc and the minority Shias, Alawites, and Christians.

In 1973, a new constitution was drafted after demands from the opposition for stricter Islamic law. The Constitution was adopted by the People's Council at the end of January 1973 but had no provision to that effect. Viewing the Constitution as the product of an Alawite-dominated, secular, Ba'athist ruling elite, Sunni militants staged a series of riots in February 1973 in conservative and predominantly Sunni cities such as Hamah and Homs. Numerous demonstrators were killed or wounded in clashes between the troops and demonstrators.[5] After these demonstrations took place, the Assad government had the draft charter amended to include a provision that the President of Syria must be Muslim, and that Islamic law is a main source of legislation as a compromise to the Islamists. On March 13, 1973, the new Constitution (which is no longer applicable, having been amended in 2012) went into effect.[6]

The religion of the President of the Republic has to be Islam. Islamic jurisprudence is a main source of legislation.

Paragraph 2 of Article 3 declares that Islamic jurisprudence is "a" source of law, but not "the" absolute source.[7] Bernard Botiveau notes that from a Ba'athist perspective "Islam was one of the fundamental components of Arabness, but required to be located at the religious, and not the political end."[8] Sunni Shaykh Muhammad al-Habash interprets the provision to mean that it "refers to the situation where there is another source of law. Islam is a main source, but not the unique source. There are other sources for a wide area of law."[9] Scholarly commentator Nael Georges supposes that if there is no Islamic law that regulates a specific circumstance, secular law is applied. However, Georges concludes that there is not strict separation between Islam and the state in its present constitutional setup.[10] Despite this Article in the Constitution, Syria identifies itself as secular, and does not follow Islamic law. In Bashar al-Assad's speech in 2013, he reaffirmed his commitment to keeping Syria a secular state.[11]